If you’re looking into building a new website or updating an existing site, one of the first choices you’ll have to make is whether to do it yourself or hire a professional. Not so long ago, there would have been no question of hiring a pro to get the results you want, but thanks to the rise of online tools like website builders, it has become much easier for the non-techies among us to build a more-than-decent website. Just because you can, though, doesn’t always mean you should. It’s a decision that’s worth weighing carefully, since for some projects a professional cannot be replaced by a tool.
Here are some considerations that might help you decide.
Popular Website Options.
Website builders – Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix are popular choices -- offer some of the easiest and least expensive paths to create a web presence. In general, website builders are less powerful than a system like WordPress, but are easier to use. Website builders generally have visual page editors that make it easy to edit elements of the website. On the other hand, they aren’t very flexible, so they are best for smaller sites. Website builders do include hosting and sometimes cover the registration of a domain name, so you don’t need to worry about that configuration. Website builders commonly price their services at less than $10 per month.
WordPress is a content management system that is very powerful, but is also more abstract. Unlike website builders that allow you to drag and drop, WordPress users can choose a “theme” from the thousands available then use a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface to add and edit content. Users may also have to employ the occasional bit of code to edit a theme or plugin in WordPress, which makes it better suited for those with at least a little comfort around HTML. While it’s free, WordPress does require you to find a web host (which is often less than $5/ month). You’ll also have to pay $10 to $20 per year for a domain registration.
Finally, there’s the option to hand the entire site over to professionals. This is by far the most expensive option – costs can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $100,000, depending on the company doing the work and the size and nature of the site. The costs with this option are significant, but the possibilities are limitless.
What Kind of Site Do You Need?
In order to decide which option is best for you, you’ll need to determine what kind of site best matches your business.
A brochure site is the simplest site, and as the name implies, it’s a showcase of what your business does. The primary purpose of a brochure site is to give a company a credible web presence and provide some basic information to prospective customers with text, images, and maybe a video. It’s a good way to show your mission, pricing, examples of what you sell, and basic contact information.
If, on the other hand, you’ll be handling financial transactions, you’ll need an e-commerce site. An e-commerce site is a little more complicated, since it will have to be able to handle payment processing and allow you to easily add, remove, or edit products and services.
For some businesses, the site itself actually is the business. Web applications like project management tools, online fax services, or price comparison engines are all examples of web applications. While brochure sites and even e-commerce sites are possible to build with a CMS or website builder, an application is something you should only entrust to a professional website developer. If this is something you’re exploring, be prepared to spend at least $10,000 for a custom app that will stand out and function smoothly.
Some websites combine both e-commerce and an application function (think Amazon). Unless you really know your way around website design, a hybrid site that will process a lot of requests and information should also be built by a pro.
Another way to look at what kind of site you’ll need is to ask yourself how important it will be to your business. If you’re a consultant, for instance, whose business is primarily based on existing relationships, you probably won’t be relying on a website to generate a large percentage of your business. If your website is generating less than 20 percent of your business, a simple brochure site should fill your needs.
If your site will generate a more significant bit of business, perhaps more than 60 percent, it’s likely to be a site that will have more user demands and will have to perform multiple functions. Even if your website is simple, if it’s going to be responsible for the majority of your business generation, it’s best to hire a professional developer.
Your Skill Level.
If you’re a programmer who can build a website from scratch, the sky’s the limit. For the rest of us, there are options available for almost every skill level.
Website builders are the most basic tool, and as discussed above, also the most limited. However, they are extremely easy to use, and you don’t need to know anything about coding to jump right in and build a clean-looking site. If you can use PowerPoint, you can use a website builder.
WordPress requires a higher comfort level with basic web hosting and HTML, but is still a relatively easy system to use. It is more flexible and customizable than a website builder, but you should feel comfortable exploring the WordPress community to find the best design templates and plugins for your needs.
Keep in mind that whether you choose a website builder or WordPress, you’ll be in charge of the content and creative elements that make it stand out.
Depending on whether you build your own site or hire a professional developer, a brochure site can cost anywhere from fifty dollars a year to more than $5,000. Most professional developers will charge at least $5,000 to build a nicely designed, mobile-friendly website.
If you’re building an e-commerce site, expect to spend a little more, since they’re more complicated. A website builder package that includes quality e-commerce features will typically cost about $300 per year, while a developer will cost at least $7,500, but the cost could be substantially more if you have even slightly more complicated functions on the website, like product categories or real-time inventory management.
Evaluate Your Options.
There are a few categories of business owners for whom hiring a professional web developer is almost certainly a must: businesses that are, or rely on, custom apps; businesses that expect to generate 100 percent of their business from the website; and business owners who are not comfortable or familiar with website builders. In these cases you’ll need expert guidance and know-how to make your site work best for your business -- just be aware of the budget requirements.
For those who expect to generate less than 20 percent of their business from their website, and who feel comfortable with basic programs like PowerPoint, a website builder is the best bet. You can get a professional looking site without spending a lot of time or money on an overcomplicated project.
What if you’re in between? In that case you have myriad options to choose from, including using the extremely popular WordPress platform, which provides a great cost savings, but can be made to serve a huge variety of needs. In general, though, the higher the percentage of revenue you expect to generate from your website, the greater potential ROI you’ll get from an investment in your website.